How to navigate the wine list, by the Sommelier of the Year

Struggling with picking, pouring and pronunciation? Don’t fret, we asked our wine expert for their simple tips and tricks

Before wine wunderkind Jan Konetzki became the Director of Wine and Chateau Latour & Artemis Domaines Ambassador (it’s a mouthful, we know) at Ten Trinity Square Private Club, he was the head sommelier at Michelin-starred restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

It’s a glittering resume, and one that grows stronger by the year. Recently, the German wine expert was awarded sommelier of the year by Wine-List Confidential, who cited his focus on both excellence in service and expertise in wine as reasons he took home the gong.

It’s not the first time Konetzki’s skills have been recognised — and for good reason. If ever you needed a man on your side when tripping your way through a particularly formidable wine list, it would be this award-winning sommelier. So, to help the everyman, we present the gentleman’s guide to navigating the wine list…

How to navigate the wine list, by the Sommelier of the Year

It’s always worth listening to the locals

If you find yourself in a foreign land, and are brave enough to venture from the relative safety of the hotel restaurant, Konetzki says that it is always worth chatting with the locals.

They will not only know where and what they like to both drink and eat, but they’ll also be able to give you a far more personalised review or recommendation than any Trip Advisor user. This might mean stepping away from your go-to order of Chablis or Chateauneuf du Pape, but a local wine with rave reviews could sweep you off your feet.

How to navigate the wine list, by the Sommelier of the Year

Local wine and local food will (nearly) always pair

You may have spent the last week soaking up the Mediterranean sun but those Spanish grapes have been doing that all season.

Because of the sunshine with which they are imbued, and centuries of local knowledge, pair any country’s national wines with their national foods and you’ll likely be on to a winner. Of course, those confusing names and regions can complicate this – and a French cheese from the Ardennes will pair better with a wine from that region — but stick to country pairings as a rule of thumb, and you’ll never go far wrong.

When it comes to names, the longer the better

Wine names may not be the easiest things to pronounce and, if you’re not fluent in French or Italian, they can bamboozle to say the least. But Konetzki has a curious rule when ordering in a restaurant: If in doubt, go for the longest name.

Don’t be afraid of looking foolish, say the sommelier, just go for it. Even if it’s called Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Großes Gewächs, Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe, Germany 2010. Most people will be put off by these names so the restaurant probably won’t sell as many bottles. Therefore, the wine will likely have a better bottle age and will be priced down more so than its catchily-named counterparts.

How to navigate the wine list, by the Sommelier of the Year

Look at the staff before the wine list or the menu

Do they know what they’re doing? Is there a trained sommelier answering questions with grace and ease? If so, you can normally relax and know that you will be looked after by the staff. If however, you are left waiting to be served and your server is struggling with the pronunciation even more than you are, then you might have to pay slightly closer attention to what you’re buying and use some of your own knowledge to get the perfect bottle.

Trust the sommelier

Konetzki tells us that there was an old adage that sommeliers were the most feared people in any given city. They will clean out your credit cards without thinking twice, it went.

But, today, there has been a shift. The majority of wine professionals now strive to get you the best bottle at the lowest price, so give them your trust and sit back while they pour. These people know what they’re doing.

How to navigate the wine list, by the Sommelier of the Year

Name your price

It may not seem like an instinctive way of doing things, but don’t be afraid to give your sommelier a price you’re willing to pay for a bottle of wine.

This will save a nasty shock when the bill comes and will help the sommelier find the perfect bottle for you. The sommelier won’t think you’re being cheap and he might even offer a bottle that is less expensive than you were expecting — but still pairs with the food perfectly.

Never buy the cheapest or the most expensive

This may often sound like an urban myth but Konetzki confirms that the cheapest and most expensive wines on a restaurant’s list tend to be the worst value for money, due to mark ups.

The sommelier’s advice? Skip the first two and the last two, and plump for something in the middle. They should be good value bottles, lovely wine, and pair with your dinner perfectly.

Further Reading